management

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Employee well being and stress in the workplace

Employee well being especially in regard to stress in the workplace has gradually been recognized as a problem in organisations. Different researchers when researching its impacts on both organisations and individual employees have found that stress is related to work absenteeism, employee turnover, organisational performance, poor psychology and physical well being, etc. (Siu, 1997a; Harter et al. 2002; Tan and Akhtar 1998; Jackson and Rothmann 2006). It is argued that “the well being of employee is in the best interest of communities and organisations” (Harter et al. 2002: 205). As the aim of an organisation is to maintain valuable employees to generate profit and lessen cost, a sound mental and physical well being of an employee is necessary in helping organisations achieving employees’ commitment.

Organisational commitment is defined as “the relative strength of an individual’s identification with and involvement in an organisation” (Mowday et al. 1982: 26). A highly committed employee is always what organisations want due to the advantages it may bring to organisations such as better performance, increased productivity, and lower labour turnover. So, the question of how to retain the most valuable person and to encourage their commitment to an organisation has become an important issue in managing organisations nowadays. In order to achieve the purpose of maintaining core employees, human resource management practices are adopted by organisations which according to Guest (1987) focus on the commitment and motivation of an employee, as well as the management of organisational behaviour. The techniques that are used by human resources to retain valuable employees often include offers a competitive salary, necessary insurance to employees, as well as an extra bonuses after having worked for a certain number of years in the organisation. Despite these benefits as a way to encourage an employee to work even harder and stay in the organisation longer, still the amount of work stress that employees have in an organisation may influence organisational commitment and organisational performance outcomes (Jones et al. 1995). Many researches done in the past were with regard to the antecedents of organisational commitment (Meyer and Allen 1990; Mowday et al. 1979), especially for affective commitment. Others (Cheng and Stockdale, 2003) examined the validation of organisational commitment in China, but few are concerned with factors that may lead to the variation of organisational commitment in the context of Chinese organisations, especially between work stress and organisational commitment.

Stress occurs “when the magnitude of the stressor exceeds the individual’s capacity to cope” (Siu, 2003:339). It has been studied in three aspects by different researchers, “individual differences, environmental factors, and some admixture of the two” (Parker and De Cotiis, 1983:162). Work stress has been identified as related to personal traits, poor working condition, role conflict and workload, etc. (Jones et al. 1995; Cooper and Marshall, 1976; Parker and De Cotiis, 1983). For example, in previous studies, a researcher found three different behaviour patterns: Type A, Type B and Type C, and stated that Type A people are supposed to suffer more stress in their work compared to Type B people who demonstrated the opposite features of Type A, as well as Type C people who are considered to be “governed by chronic anxiety and insecurity”. This is because Type A people have characteristic of ‘high drive’ which is identified as goal drive, strong competitive instinct, strong deadline consciousness, care for career prospects, sensitive and involved in more mental and physical functions (Carruthers, 1980: 5). Other researchers also argued that it is because “person with ‘type A’ behaviour pattern may affect individual response to potential stressor” (Parker and De Cotiis, 1983: 162) and how an employee feels and fits within the working environment may also lead to an increased stress level in work. In the case of Chinese employees, personal traits are usually presented as hard- working. This is partly due to the long history of China which has been deeply rooted in Chinese people’s minds and influenced their way of behaving in work. In China, due to the influence of its collectivistic culture and Confucian values which highlight the importance of being loyal, employees thus show a relatively higher organisational commitment. It is being described that “commitment is relevant in China”, and “organisational commitment is one of the characteristics of Chinese workforce” (Siu, 2002: 530). However, the influence of this on Chinese employees may also cause stress in the workplace, such as heavy workloads, unbalanced life style and meeting deadlines, etc. (Chiu and Kosinski, 1995). The potential negative impacts that stress can have on employees are bad mental and physical well being, poor work performance as well as leading to absenteeism. Thus, it can be hypothesised that employees who receive large amount of stress from work may have a lower level of organisational commitment.

Stress at Work

Stress has been noticed by many researchers as one of the problems that can exert influence on both organisation and employee. Employees who work under a high pressure work environment are more likely to have a bad mental and physical well being and be associated with disease such as coronary heart disease and feeling frustrated and fearful, etc. Besides that, researchers also put forward the opinion that stress can be a threat to the financial world as well (William and Cooper, 1998; Cooper and Marshall, 1976). For example, the loss of money in the UK each year “is estimated at 8 billion” as a result of employee sickness (William and Cooper, 1998: 306). The “coronary heart disease and mental illness together, therefore, represent a serious cost for industry both in human and financial terms (Cooper and Marshall, 1976: 11). Therefore organisations may find it worthwhile to look more closely at the impacts work stress can have.

It has been demonstrated that stress would occur when a person feels he or she is unable to cope with the demand of work which he or she is responsible for (Gowler and Legge, 1980). How employees’ mental and physical feelings about how their work affects their performance in the workplace was also found to contribute to the stress (Danna and Griffin, 1999). Findings of previous studies (Jones et al, 1995; Redmacher and Sheridan, 1995) indentified that work-related stress emerged as a result of work overload, unbalanced work-life style, role conflict and so on. Work overload as a source of stress is probably very common for employees in different occupations (Tattersall and Farmer, 1995), as organisations lay emphasis on productivity which may lead to a higher expectation of employees than their actual ability. It can be both quantitative and qualitative overload depending on the kind of requirements asked by the organisation (Tattersall and Farmer, 1995). For quantitative means of work overload, it is the demanded amount of work that is beyond the employee’s capability to complete. Qualitative work overload, however, is when the required skills or knowledge exceeds that of the employee’s. Employees who always experience work overload may experience stress more often than those who do not. The high demand of work from the organisation might lead to work and personal life conflict and thus increase the stress level of the employee. Employees may bring their unfinished work home, in which they also have family responsibilities to be fulfilled. This is especially obvious in two- career couples, who commonly find they are incapable to cope with “simultaneous career demands” which stem from both work and family (Hall and Hall, 1980: 252). Whilst female employees are seen to become the majority of the population who suffer from work and family conflict, a researcher (Cooper, 1993: 21) stated that, this is due to the growing increase in women who work, which made “managing the interface between work and home is another increasing problem at work”. However, evidence was also found to suggest that male and female employees experience almost the same level of stress from work- family life conflict (Vallone and Donaldson, 2001). Besides these most studied sources of stress, other work stressors such as “relationship at work, career or job development, organisational structure and culture” can generate stress in workplace (Cooper, 1993: 21).

Work Stress in the Context of China

The long history of China has left Chinese people with values that carry with the characteristics of Confucianism and collectivist, when these features are related to work they can become the sources of stress for employees in China. For example, the concept of hierarchy exists in almost all of Chinese organisations, and there is a clear line between superior and subordinate, besides this, face saving theory and the emphasis of harmony also influence the decision making of Chinese employees in their daily work (Triandis et al. 1990; Siu, 2003; Tan and Akhtar, 1998; Chiu and Kosinski, 1995). Such stress can be induced when employees get a challenging job from their boss or if the work is beyond their ability. This is because in order to save face and leave their boss with a good image they would rather take the job than complain even if they know it causes stress.

Work stress has been studied by many researchers in order to discover its impacts on both organisation and individual level. However, researchers have argued that Western countries are where most of these work-related stress researches have taken place, with few regard to countries which are “undergoing enormous economic and social changes” such as China (Siu, 2003: 338). Because of its distinctive collectivistic and Confucian culture values which differentiate China from that of individualism culture in Western countries, employees in China may experience a different level of stress in their workplace. According to the study concerning managers in Hong Kong it was reported they experienced more work stress in their work than that of UK managers (Siu, 2003). The reasons leading to this can be environmental, personal as well as cultural. In that case, since Hong Kong is a place where Confucian and traditional Chinese work values are embedded, it is possible that employees in Hong Kong are influenced by collectivistic value in the aspect of showing a higher level of work dynamic and moral discipline (Chiu and Kosinski, 1995). Previous studies found that “the process of stress depends on a person’s appraisal of a situation” (Siu, 2003: 339), while in the context of China, the kind of situation that is perceived by employees as stressful may be different from employees from other countries. For example, work stress may be generated when employees interpret situations such as work load, meeting deadlines as well as work and family conflict as stressful.

Workload

Workload is defined as “the number or the intensity of demands that may be made of employees” (Jones et al. 1995: 42). It is can be induced through the work amount that is required by the organisation, and people with a high workload live “in a high demand environment at work and / or at home” (Hall and Hall, 1980: 250). The work ethic of the Chinese employee makes them conform more to their superior than that of their western counterparts, as work value is highlighted and considered as the basic order for social and management in China (Siu, 1997b). The concept of hierarchy together with Confucian influenced work values encourages Chinese employees to be very respectful to their superiors and responsible to their work. In research which compared organisational commitment amongst Chinese, Korean and Canadian employees, Chinese employees were found have a high power distance compare to western countries like Canada indicated the inequality and high centralisation of the power in Chinese organisations (Cheng and Stockdale, 2003). This also contributed to the reason of why Chinese employees are unwilling to go against their superior for the sake of their personal benefits. Other researchers have argued that Chinese employees’ serious attitude of work is partly out of the protection of “personal reputation and family honour” (Chiu and Kosinski , 1995: 104). Besides that, face theory of Chinese employees made them unlikely to refuse any work that is beyond their ability (Chiu and Kosinski, 1995). So, even if they found the work is expecting too much from them, they will still take it rather than refuse it.

Meeting Deadlines

In today’s rapidly developing economic environment, efficiency and productivity are two important factors. Employees are asked to be competent to work and be able to meet deadlines under pressure when they apply for the job. For example, employees in Hong Kong are trained to be able to meet all kinds of deadlines as to compete against their counterparts in the world (Chiu and Kosinski, 1995). These kinds of high pressured working conditions may place a large amount of stress on employees. As hierarchy is much emphasised in collectivistic culture, under which employees are told to conform to their superior (Triandis et al. 1990), at the same time, the Confucian oriented work value told them to be responsible. Hence, for Chinese employees not to follow what their superior told them to do is hard, same as not to finish their work on time. Their stress received from work is “quite real and detrimental” (Chiu and Kosinski, 1995: 104).

Work-Family Life Conflict

Conflict between work and family can also add stress to employees’ lives, since employees have to be both responsible for their work and their family. According to previous research (Greenhaus and Beutell, 1985) work and family conflict can be divided into three different kinds: time based, strain based and behaviour based. For time based work and family conflict, it is the large amount of time spent on work that makes it hard for employees to spare time to be with their family. For stress based conflict, the performance of employees in one role will be affected by the amount of stress they receive in another. While for behaviour based conflict, it occurs when employees feel they are unable to adjust their behaviour according to the demand of different roles.

This conflict would be more time and strain based in the context of China. For example, research found that employees in Hong Kong are more affected by the stress stemming from work and family conflict than that of western counterparts, because in China “the ideal social order is conceptualized in terms of role and begins with the family” (Chiu and Kosinski, 1995: 101). Thus, family responsibilities can contribute to the work and family conflict and to the work strains as well (Spector et al. 2004). Chinese employees may be confronted with the problem of choosing work or family responsibility. As family plays a very important role in people’s lives, it is considered as “unseparated whole” in Chinese people’s concept and having enough time to spend with family is essential for them (Chiu and Kosinski, 1995: 101). Therefore, the amount of stress that is caused by unbalanced work and family life should not be underestimated.

Besides the above mentioned sources of stress, other researchers have also argued that role conflict is another factor that can induce stress in workplace. For example, role conflict would lead to job dissatisfaction and thus negatively related to organisational commitment (Jones et al. 1995). However, different researchers argued (Chiu and Kosinski, 1995) that Chinese employees have less role conflict compared with their Western counterparts. They gave an example of Hong Kong employees, and found that they are less affected by conflict than employees in the West. Findings of previous research have shown that employees in Hong Kong are more able to cope with conflict than that of Western employees (Tang and Kirkbride, 1986). In China, harmony is another key concept which includes the intention to create a harmonious society, a harmonious relationship between nature and human beings and a harmonious relationship between superior and subordinate. Based on this notion conflict is usually avoided if possible, as “Chinese employees seldom transform internalized disagreements into conflicts, and therefore they experience less stress than they would if open conflict was a result” (Chiu and Kosinski, 1995: 103). Hence, the stress that comes from role conflict is relatively low compared to other work-related stress in China.

Organisational Commitment

The definition of commitment varies and can be divided into two different aspects which mainly focus on: behaviour and attitude. Behaviour-related commitment is defined as “represent of sunk cost in the organisation where individuals forgo alternative courses of action and choose to link themselves to the organisation” (Mowday et al. 1979:225). Whilst attitudinally-based commitment is defined as “represent a state in which an individual identified with a particular organisation and its goals and wishes to maintain membership in order to facilitate these goals” (Mowday et al. 1979:225). The concept of attitudinal commitment consists of three components, namely: affective, continuance, and normative (Meyer and Allen, 1991). These three components state the relationship between organisation and employees. In each of the three states, though employees all feel they are bonded to the organisation, the reasons of why they are committed varies. For example, in affective commitment, employees are willing to stay in the organisation out of their willingness; while in continuance commitment, employees are more likely to lay emphasis on the perceived cost of leaving the organisation. As for continuance commitment, it is based on two factors “the magnitude and/or number of investments individuals make and a perceived lack of alternatives” (Meyer and Allen, 1990: 4). Whilst in normative commitment, it is the employees’ personal values that make them feel they are responsible for being loyal to the organisation, and feel that remaining in the organisation is the right thing to do. The work experience, organisational rules, work involvement and the degree of satisfaction of employee, etc. can all contribute to the employees’ commitment. Research which was done by Mowday et al. (1979) used an instrument called Organisational Commitment Questionnaire (OCQ) to measure the organisational commitment. They found that organisational commitment correlated with employees’ behaviour, and also is a predictor of employee turnover and absenteeism. Besides that, other researchers (Tan and Akhtar, 1998; Chao, 1990; Chiu and Kosinski, 1995) maintained that culture influence, work environment, personal characteristics, etc. are also factors that can affect organisational commitment.

The consequences of commitment are also discussed by different researchers, which are mainly focused on several aspects: these might be influence on labour turnover, absenteeism, and work performance. Mainly there exits three categories of commitment outcomes (Wright and Kehoe, 2008:11): the first category is identified based on Morrow (1983) and other scholars’ findings that commitment outcome as an “affective response depends upon the commitment rational”. Withdraw intention and behaviours are included in the second category. The last category is about the willingness to exert effort to the organisation which involves the employees’ support and work attitudes.

Researchers like Meyer and Allen (2001) found that the link between the employee and the organisation would vary due to different work experiences that employees have in their organisation. In other words, what employees have received from their work, such as pay, welfare benefits and work stress as well as their working environment, would have an impact on their commitment to the organisation. Their findings fall into one of the four causes of employee commitment and are also consistent with the commitment research done by Mowday et al. (1979) who assert that the cause of commitment can be divided in to four groups: personal or individual characteristics, role related experiences, work experience and structural characteristics. In the first group, an individual employee has the feeling that they have the obligation to be loyal to the organisation. While in the second and third groups, it is the specific work experience that they have which influenced their choice, as whether the job has a good promotion opportunity, whether the employee is satisfied with the work or the pay he or she receives. In the last group, organisational structure also becomes a factor, the more an organisation is hierarchically structured, the more influence will have on employees’ organisational commitment.

Organisational Commitment in China

Culture may have an influence on organisation performance, employee behaviour and even organisational commitment. It is defined by different scholars with similar opinions that it is something that exists in an organisation which holds certain values and beliefs that are recognized by all of its members. China has a history of 5000 years, and its culture is deeply rooted in the value of Confucian and collectivism. Because of the impacts of cultural values, Chinese people have a very strong sense of being loyal to the organisation or to their leader. It is also argued that in a collectivistic culture, an organisation might be more likely to have highly committed employees (Cheng and Stockdale, 2003). As an organisation in China works in a Confucian based culture in which the relationship between employee and employer is different compared with an organisation based on Anglo-American culture, it might lead to different consequences of organisational commitment in China (Tan and Akhtar, 1998). For example, some researchers have discovered that Chinese employees showed the highest level of organisational commitment in both normative and affective commitment amongst Canada and Korea, which is formed based on their value of organisational loyalty (Cheng and Stockdale, 2003). Employees in China place more emphasis on the importance of organisational commitment, however the situation has changed since 1979 when the Chinese government approved foreign investment in China (Cheng and Stockdale, 2003). The increased numbers of joint ventures in China created more job opportunities for people to choose from, and with better pay offered by these companies it encouraged Chinese people to begin to seek jobs in other organisations. At that time, salary was the most focused issue when finding a job, since people have to earn money to support their family. Also they were willing to work overtime as a way to show their ability and their hardworking attributes. But with the development of the Chinese economy, work stress emerged as one of major problems in the workplace as more and more organisations emphasize efficiency and productivity. Comparable salary may be one of the reasons why Chinese people are being loyal to their organisation, yet it is not always the case since people now pay more attention to family life and their health. Better working environment, the amount of work, flexibility and healthy work patterns might be the most important thing that Chinese employees are concerned with, and these are also the factors that influence the organisational commitment variants.

Organisational commitment in China is considered as one of the characteristics of Chinese workforce, as study results have shown that due to the traditional work value of Chinese people, they appear to experience more stress in work than their Western counterparts because the importance of being loyal is highlighted by Chinese employees (Siu, 2002: 532). This is very obvious if compared to individualism in Western countries, for example, group interest is the priority amongst those employees who are deeply influenced by the collectivistic culture of China rather than individual interest (Tan and Akhtar, 1998). Organisational commitment thus may have a wider meaning in China, as employees have to be responsible to the organisation which means they have to fulfil their duty by being loyal to the organisation. Besides the good impacts that Chinese collectivistic culture may bring to the organisation: employees commit to the organisation, commitment may still be affected by other factors, such as low wage, intensive working hours, and a poor welfare system, etc. In order to attract valuable employees to come and stay in an organisation, there is a growing tendency for Chinese organisations to introduce a balanced work-family life pattern to their employees, while the welfare system in the organisation has also been improved. However, employee work stress may still exist as a factor which may be taken into consideration by employees when choosing an organisation as more and more Chinese employees become to be aware of the importance of physical and mental well being in workplace.

The Present Study

Though lots of research is focused on the relationship between organisation and commitment, and the influence of Chinese culture on employee commitment, few are about the variable factors of organisational commitment with regard to employees’ stress in the workplace. Employees’ mental and physical well being is vital for the organisation to secure a good performance and productivity. It is very important to enhance employees’ satisfaction of the organisation and thus encourage their organisational commitment. In China, organisational commitment may appear in the higher level amongst Chinese employees as a result of Confucianism told influence, while it is the traditional work values that exposes them to a large amount of work stress. Since stress can have negative effects on an organisation and individual level, it is essential for the Chinese organisation to understand the relationship between organisational commitment and work stress amongst Chinese employees.

The purpose of the present study is to analyse the relationship between Chinese employees’ well being, i.e. work stress, and organisational commitment. The aim is to find out whether a sound physical and mental well being in the workplace is the precondition of a relatively higher organisational commitment, and whether the more stress an employee receives from work, the lower their commitment will be. Focus is given to a company in China: Joyoung, a company selling soya milk making machines. This organisation claims that they emphasize the importance of happy and healthy working of their employees, and provides them with enough after work activities as a way to have their employees’ work stress released, and create a balanced life for them. However, the questions that still need to be answered during this research are: is employee stress really being lessened under this kind of healthy work culture and are there any differences between people with different age, gender, position and their tenure with regard to their work stress level and organisational commitment.


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